Imagining a kinder, gentler city (Daf Yomi Eruvin 29)

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“I, too, am ready to answer any question posed to me.”

We encountered a tired Rabbi in yesterday’s Daf Yomi text. Today we find a Rabbi who is in a good mood. We are told that Rava found himself in a good mood one day, and it must have been an unusual occurrence for it to be noted so prominently. He compared himself to the “intellectually sharp” ben Azzai, who would “regularly expound in the markets of Tiberias.” Rava appears to be in a playful mood and he says that he too can lecture standing on a soap box in a public market and he dares his cronies to ask him anything. I am wondering if the strong wine that is mentioned later in the today’s text was somewhat responsible for Rava’s good mood.

One Sage takes him up on his offer and asks an esoteric question: “How many apples are needed to establish an eiruv?”  Rava turns the question back on his friend and asks if apples are in fact suitable food for an eruv. The voice of the Gemara interrupts this discussion and asks if foods that are fit for eating qualify for an eruv and if apples meet this criterion, shouldn’t they be allowable? We are reminded that “one may not learn from general statements using the word all, even in a place where it says except, since no rule exhausts all cases.” We are told that a minimum of a kav of apples are required to establish an eruv. (One kav is the equivalent of approximately 41 fluid ounces if a conversion table on the internet is correct.)

The discussion includes a roster of august Rabbis to determine “a poor man’s tithe.” Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar said that one must give an eighth of a log (one log is approximately 10 fluid ounces) of spices, a liter of vegetables, ten nuts, five peaches, two pomegranates, or one citron. There was some sort of error stated among the Rabbis, which is corrected, and we are told that a poor man’s tithe cannot contain less than a half a kav of wheat or less than a kav of barley. Rabbi Meir weighs in and says that the tithe must not include less than a kav-and-half of spelt and a kav of dry figs or a maneh (.505 litres)  of pressed figs. Rabbi Akiva adds his own take on what is required and says that no less than a log of wine should be added to the tithe. Abba Shaul said that the tithe should include no less than enough to allow the receiver to cash in the value and buy food for two meals.

All this back and forth is a reminder to be kind to those less fortunate while respecting their dignity. The current pandemic has further stressed populations that are already food deprived. During normal times, the Food Bank for New York City delivers more than 58 million meals each year, including more than 4 million kosher meals. The Food Bank estimated in June that since the start of the pandemic, demand for food distribution has increased 20% when compared with the same period in the previous year. (see

I have been thinking a lot lately about how difficult it is for those who do not have substantial resources to live in New York City, and how true this is particularly during a public health crisis. Many reside in dense quarters and do not have the type of jobs that allow them to work from home. They either worked through the worse of the pandemic and were exposed to the virus, or they lost their jobs and are exposed to economic and food insecurity.

I asked my twenty-something nieces how they think New York City is doing as it (hopefully) recovers from the crisis that led to a shut-down of its economy from March through early July. They said that they hope things come back, but differently. When I asked what they meant by differently, they said they want to see the city become hospitable to those who do not have deep pockets and the rents to come down and the job market open up for a larger portion of the population. They envisioned a kinder, more diverse city now that the wealthiest have fled for more open space. As we discovered from yesterday’s reading, we can learn a lot from the wisdom of the young.

About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at
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